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Afghanistan on Edge

Former Taliban Leader's Release Fails To Revive Peace Talks

October 22nd 2013

Taliban soldiers

Just weeks ago, his release was hailed by the Afghan government as the key to successful peace talks with the Taliban.

But Pakistan's decision to free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's co-founder and former second-in-command, has failed to live up to Kabul's expectations.

No formal negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban have been scheduled. No location has been set. And it is unclear whether Baradar is actually free at all. Added together, it appears that Kabul's efforts to negotiate a peaceful end to the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan have suffered yet another blow.

Even before his reported release in September, questions were raised about Baradar and the possible role he could play in the peace process. There were doubts about his clout with the current Taliban high command and whether he could convince the militant group to end its bloody insurgency. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Race in Spotlight Ahead of S. Africa 2014 Elections

October 21st 2013

Black farmers protest 2

The issue of race is rearing its head again as South Africa prepares for national elections next year.  One new political party has made a point of verbally attacking the white minority population who benefited under the apartheid system. At the same time, a small group of white South Africans say their race is threatened with “genocide.”  Analysts say that reckless racial sentiments are not productive and out of sync with today’s South Africa.

Nearly 20 years ago, South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, described his country as a “rainbow nation” at peace with itself. Mandela’s presidency ended the apartheid system in which non-whites were oppressed and treated as inferior to white South Africans. However, the legacy of racism is still a reality in today’s South Africa. And two political movements have recently used race as a rallying cry ahead of the 2014 vote. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Netanyahu Warns US Not to Roll Back Iran Sanctions

October 20th 2013

Bibi Netanyahu with Glasses

The United States should not ease sanctions against Iran until it can prove that Iran has fully dismantled its nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday. The warning comes amid reports that the Obama administration is considering offering Iran a chance to recover frozen assets overseas in exchange for steps to scale back its nuclear program. “The question is not of hope,” Netanyahu said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “The question is of actual results.”

“I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until it actually stops its nuclear program,” he added. “You don’t want to go through halfway measures.” Netanyahu compared Iran’s nuclear program to chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, which President Bashar Assad has pledged to eliminate. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Arab League and UN Hold Talks to Set a Date for More Talks

October 20th 2013

A truck bomb explosion in Syria's fourth largest city of Hama killed more than 30 people on October 20, as the special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League held talks in Cairo on fixing a date for a long-delayed peace conference.

Syrian state TV showed fire and rescue workers trying to douse a blaze from a powerful truck bomb explosion near a government checkpoint in Hama. Civilian vehicles lined up near the checkpoint were pulverized and set on fire, killing or wounding dozen of people.

Elsewhere, government artillery pounded rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus. Fighting engulfed several southern districts as well, including the Yarmouk refugee camp. Rebels also tried to take control of a main highway out of the capital from government forces.

Broken Government

Cruz: Blame Senate GOP for ObamaCare Defeat

October 19th 2013

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is blaming his fellow Senate Republicans for opposing a movement in the House to defund ObamaCare, which ultimately caused Republicans to win few concessions in the deal to reopen the government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

In an interview with the National Review posted on Saturday afternoon, the senator said that there would be “consequences” for supporting the funding bill.

“Unfortunately, rather than supporting House Republicans, a significant number of Senate Republicans actively, aggressively, and vocally led the effort to defeat House Republicans, to defeat the effort to defund Obamacare,” he told the conservative magazine. “Once Senate Republicans did that, it crippled the chances of this effort, and it caused the lousy deal.”

Late on Wednesday, the Senate voted 81-18 to restore government funding until Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7.

All 18 votes against the legislation came from Republicans, while 27 members of the party voted to send the bill to the House. Among those backing the legislation was Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who is facing a primary challenge from a Tea Party-backed candidate, Matt Bevin. “From day one in office,” Cruz said, “I’ve urged the American people to hold every elected official accountable, and far too many elected officials are not listening to the American people.” Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egyptian 'Rebel' Group Backs Military

October 18th 2013

Anti-Morsi Protests June 2013

The Egyptian grassroots movement that boasts bringing down ex-President Mohamed Morsi is now seeking a spot in government. But even as Tamarod inspires similar movements abroad, the group remains dogged by the question - is it a player or a pawn?

While Egyptian leaders continue their crackdown on Islamist opponents, they are also trying to move forward on a roadmap for political change.

And one of their biggest backers in the overhaul, the Tamarod, or Rebellion, movement is moving along with them. The public face of outcry against Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Tamarod says it will compete nationally in new elections for parliament.

Founding member Mohamed Heikal says Tamarod has changed its focus. He says Tamarod has “shifted from a protest movement to a movement of reconstruction and that there is a lot to rebuild." The nation is torn apart by the military's crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and what many Islamists and others see as the subversion of democracy. But Tamarod spokesman Hisham Goran defends the military's path. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Quake Victims Suffer As Government Denies International Aid

October 17th 2013

Turkey Earthquake

Residents of the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan are still struggling to dig out of the rubble left by two major earthquakes last month. The central government, meanwhile, is being accused of dragging its feet in allowing international aid to reach the disaster zone.

Islamabad has been involved in an intense struggle to crush the separatist aims of the province's Baluch population. This has heightened the complications of providing relief following the quakes that hit on September 24 and 28, killing nearly 700 people and leaving some 1,000 injured.

The central government has maintained tight control over the relief effort amid the continuing insurgency and, with their safety in mind, has denied the involvement of outside aid agencies. Local aid workers acknowledge that there have been some cases of insurgents attacking security forces following the disaster. But aid workers, they say, have not been targeted. Read more ..

Broken Government

US Fiscal Deal Leaves Major Budget Challenges Unaddressed

October 16th 2013

john boehner

The bipartisan agreement to reopen the U.S. government and avoid a debt default removes the immediate threat of financial calamity, but leaves America’s long-term fiscal challenges unaddressed. Lawmakers of both parties are acknowledging that major battles on spending, taxation, and government reforms lie ahead.

First the good news: the United States appears to have dodged a bullet to the nation’s economic heart. But the reprieve will be temporary. Democratic Senator Mark Warner noted Wednesday’s accord restarts federal funding and extends the nation’s credit limit for just a few months.

“We have got 90 days before the government runs out of money again. We have 113 days until the debt ceiling might have to be raised again," said Warner. Until then, a group from both houses of Congress will meet to hammer out a bipartisan budget agreement and attempt to address America’s long-term fiscal imbalances. Read more ..

Broken Government

House Republicans May Not Have Votes to Move their Debt Plan

October 15th 2013

House Republicans said they hoped to vote Tuesday on a new fiscal plan, but doubts immediately sprouted up over whether they can muster the votes to pass it.
The new House GOP plan would modify an emerging Senate fiscal deal that would end the government shutdown, fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7.

It would do so by delaying ObamaCare’s medical device tax for two years and scrapping the law's tax subsidies for members of Congress and top Cabinet officials, lawmakers and aides said.

Republican leaders presented the plan to House members with just two days to go before a Treasury Department deadline for lifting the nation’s borrowing limit and avoiding a potentially catastrophic default on the nation's debts. Senior House Republicans had hoped to jump out in front of the Senate plan, but a two-hour, closed-door Republican conference meeting that began with a collective rendition of “Amazing Grace” ended without consensus, and lawmakers said conservatives were demanding changes to the plan. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Possible Hope and Change for Iran's Nuclear Weaponization Program

October 15th 2013

Negotiators from Iran and six world powers are holding fresh talks in the long-running standoff over the country's nuclear program.

The meetings on October 14-15 in Geneva come amid what European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called "cautious optimism". These talks are the first since Iran elected a new president.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany want Iran to allay concerns that it is developing nuclear weapons while Iran says its program is peaceful and seeks relief from international sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has promised to lead a diplomatic effort to get the sanctions eased, but officials from the so-called P5+1 nations have expressed the need for Iran to prove its sincerity through concrete steps before that will happen. Read more ..

Broken Government

US Government Shutdown Draws Array of Protests

October 14th 2013

Capitol Building at night

The partial U.S. government shutdown is forcing hundreds of thousands of federal workers to stay home, restricting or shuttering government services, and sparking protests calling for lawmakers to end the budget impasse.

With no spending plan for the fiscal year that began October 1, national parks closed, most investigators who probe outbreaks of food-borne illnesses stopped going to work, and the government quit issuing reports on the state of the economy.

The shutdown is set to begin its third week on Tuesday, with Americans seeing a personal impact with delays on things like getting home loans and income tax refunds.

The effects have sparked protests in big cities and small towns, including Sunday in Washington where a few hundred people at a rally called by the conservative Tea Party movement tore down barricades erected at closed monuments and memorials on the National Mall.  They took some of the barricades to the White House along with signs critical of President Barack Obama. Some government critics, including Tea Party supporters, charge the Obama administration ordered popular public sites closed in an effort to maximize the effects of the government shutdown for political gain. Read more ..

Broken Government

GOP Fear: Shutdown Thwarted Exposure of ObamaCare Flaws

October 13th 2013


House Republicans, now seeking a way out of the current fiscal impasse, fear that the government shutdown robbed them of a chance to highlight the problems in ObamaCare's rollout.

Oct. 1 should have been a layup for Republican opponents of President Obama’s signature healthcare law, who watched as new insurance exchanges were beset by a slew of technical snafus.

But in a harsh bit of irony for the GOP, that was also the first day of a government shutdown driven largely by their own efforts to defund ObamaCare – a standstill that has dominated headlines all month.

To make matters worse, Republicans have taken a public relations hit for their strategy , a fact not lost on the lawmakers who — along with GOP leadership — opposed making government funding contingent on healthcare changes. Read more ..

Broken Government

GOP is Unrelenting on Budget Sequester

October 13th 2013

Click to select Image

Rolling back the automatic budget cuts known as the "sequester" has emerged as a critical sticking point in the negotiations to reopen the government and avoid default. Democrats don't want to lock in 2014 government funding at the reduced level required by the sequester, but Republicans refuse to increase spending and say Democrats are overplaying their hand. “The dispute has been how to undo the sequester,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on "Face the Nation" on CBS on Sunday, explaining that Democrats want a mix of entitlement reforms and revenue increases.

But Republican lawmakers on the Sunday talk shows vowed not to budge on the sequester budget cuts. The second round of those indiscriminate cuts is scheduled for January, 2014. "If you break the spending caps, you're not going to get any Republicans in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared on "This Week" on ABC. Read more ..

Broken Government

U.S. Budget Impasse is Shutting Down Mexico

October 12th 2013

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government is unsettling the Mexican economy. As the crisis took shape last week, the Mexican peso dipped to 13.34 units per dollar, an amount which represented the second largest depreciation in 2013. The pending October 17 showdown over the U.S. debt limit is likewise contributing to the jitters, said Gabriela Siller, an analyst for Mexico-based Banco Base.

In the Mexico-U.S. border region, Mexican business leaders expressed worry that the political gridlock on the Potomac could deepen and trigger devastating consequences on the assembly-for-export, or maquiladora, industry. In Ciudad Juarez and other border cities, the foreign-owned maquiladora sector constitutes a dominant or major part of the economy.

Longer export times, reduced market demand and idled assembly lines are among the concerns voiced by Ciudad Juarez business representatives. Read more ..

Obama'a Second Term

Obama Shops Around as GOP Offers Multiple Debt-Hike Plans

October 11th 2013


President Obama seemed to go comparison-shopping on Friday as he met with Senate Republicans to discuss their proposals for ending the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling.

Obama did most of the talking but also took questions from GOP senators who rode buses down Pennsylvania Avenue to meet on the president’s turf. 

The Republican senators used their time to try to eke out details of the bargaining that had happened the previous evening between Obama and House negotiators. GOP senators are pushing their own plans to open the government and raise the debt ceiling.

“We tried to find out what was said at the meeting with the House,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who did not characterize the meeting as a negotiation. “There were a lot of questions and comments, and it seems to me there is significant conversations about the framework of a deal, but I didn’t see anything that suggested a deal was imminent,” he added. Read more ..

Broken Government

Obama and Boehner Meet Again to Hash Out the Budget Impasse

October 11th 2013

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President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders are meeting on October 11 to continue talks regarding the federal budget in hopes of ending the partial government shutdown and preventing the country from defaulting on its debt.

The Friday talks come as the partial federal government shutdown enters its 11th day and with next week's deadline for raising the debt ceiling fast approaching.

Meanwhile, the political impact of the shutdown on the U.S. political landscape was illustrated by an October 10 article in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News that cited poll of 800 people. It indicated that 53 percent of respondents blame the shutdown on Republicans while 31 percent blame it on Democrats. Read more ..

Broken Government

"Patriot Act" Author Prepares to Rein In NSA with "Freedom Act"

October 10th 2013

Capitol Hill

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the original author of the USA Patriot Act, said Wednesday that he plans to introduce legislation in the "next few days" to restrict the National Security Agency's surveillance power. His bill, which is co-authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), will be titled the USA Freedom Act.

The legislation would end the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. phone records, strengthen prohibitions against targeting the communications of Americans and require the government to more aggressively delete information accidentally collected on Americans. The bill would also create a special advocate's office tasked with arguing in favor of stronger privacy protections before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Read more ..

Broken Government

GOP Gets 28 Percent Gallup Approval Rating - Worst Ever Recorded

October 9th 2013


Only 28 percent have a favorable view of the GOP, the worst rating Gallup has ever registered for a political party.
It's also a 10 percent plunge from Gallup's last poll in September, when 38 percent had a favorable view of Republicans. Opinions have dropped with the government shutdown and fight over raising the nation's debt ceiling.

A strong majority, 62 percent, have a negative view of the GOP, according to the survey. “The Republican Party is clearly taking a bigger political hit from Americans thus far in the unfolding saga,” Gallup analyst Andrew Dugan wrote. “The Republican Party's current strategy in the fiscal debates may not be paying dividends.”

Only 43 percent said they have a favorable view of the Democratic Party, but that’s 15-percentage points better than the GOP, and slightly better than the Democratic low mark of 41 percent in 2010. A plurality, 49 percent, said they have a negative view of the Democratic Party. Read more ..

Broken Elections

Justices Clash Over Campaign Finance Law

October 8th 2013

Supreme Court at the 2010 SOTU

A sharply divided Supreme Court clashed Tuesday over campaign finance law, as the court’s conservatives pressed aggressively to lift certain restrictions.

The court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a challenge to campaign finance laws that limit the total amount of money one individual can contribute in each election cycle. The Republican National Committee and one of its wealthy donors urged the court to strike down the restrictions, calling them a violation of the First Amendment.

Several of the court’s traditionally conservative members appeared to agree, waving off the Justice Department’s warnings about the risk of corruption. “What I see are wild hypotheticals,” Justice Samuel Alito said as the government argued that lifting contribution limits would lead to corruption. Read more ..

Broken Government

GOP Centerists Won't Force 'Clean' CR Vote

October 7th 2013


House Republicans who have said they are open to supporting a “clean” government funding bill are not interested in forcing a vote on such a measure.

Democrats have launched a discharge petition aimed at forcing a vote on legislation that would end the government shutdown. Two hundred and eighteen signatures are required to compel a roll call, and that looks unlikely any time soon. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said a clean continuing resolution doesn’t have the votes to pass the House. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday challenged Boehner to prove it by scheduling a vote.

On Monday more than two dozen House Republicans who publicly favor, or who have said they would consider voting for, a clean bill. Not one said they would join forces with the Democrats. A whip list that The Washington Post has compiled.
Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Lou Barletta (Pa.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Devin Nunes (Calif.), Mike Simpson (Idaho), Rob Wittman (Va.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Peter King (N.Y.) and Tim Griffin (Ark.) clearly stated they would not sign the petition. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Kerry Says Al-Qaeda 'Can Run But Can't Hide' Following Covert Raids

October 6th 2013

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After separate raids by U.S. military forces in Libya and Somalia, Secretary of State John Kerry has repeated America’s commitment to pursuing wanted terrorists, saying they "can run, but can’t hide." In operations thousands of kilometers apart on the African continent, U.S. military forces sought to capture two wanted terrorists on October 5.

U.S. officials confirm that a top al-Qaida member was detained in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, while Navy SEALs withdrew under gunfire from a raid in the Somali town of Barawe.

Commenting on the operations during his visit to the APEC summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Kerry said the U.S. would continue efforts to bring known terrorists to justice.

“We hope this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror," Kerry said. "Those members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can't hide. We will continue to try to bring people to justice in an appropriate way with hopes that ultimately these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop.'' Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

ObamaCare Site Under Scrutiny

October 5th 2013

Obamacare Protest

ObamaCare enrollment still faces technical challenges as the process enters its second week, raising the stakes for the administration as they seek to build momentum for the exchanges.

Visitors to healthcare.gov experienced prolonged waits as of late Friday, though the site was substantially faster and less error-ridden than earlier in the week. Federal health officials have blamed the problems on heavy traffic, estimating that 8.6 million people visited the ObamaCare site this week.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said its call center had fielded 406,000 calls and that there have been 225,000 requests for online chats. In a memo late Friday, HHS claimed "success" for week one and urged patience as technicians improve the system. "Experts are working around the clock to make the site better able to meet the volume created by consumers’ overwhelming interest in their new health coverage options," the department stated. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

As North Pole Ice Melts, More Ships Take Arctic Shortcut

October 4th 2013

Polar Bear

For centuries, polar bears have enjoyed Arctic waters in isolation. But now, they are getting company in the summer. Last summer, China sent its first icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, over the top of Russia, from Shanghai to Iceland.

This summer, the Yong Sheng, a freighter operated by China's COSCO shipping company, became the first Chinese merchant vessel to take the shortcut. It sailed from Shanghai to Rotterdam, cutting two weeks off the usual route, through Egypt’s Suez Canal.

Satellite photos by the U.S. space agency, NASA, show that the white Arctic ice around the North Pole shrinks every summer. It is replaced by more and more open water, which appears black in the photos.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin agrees with the American scientists. "It is absolutely clear now that the climate is changing. Everyone is talking about this,” he told an Arctic Forum held here recently. “It is clear now that the northern latitudes can be open for shipping for 100 days or perhaps 150 days, and that new regions are opening up for economic activity." Read more ..

Japan After Fukushima

Radioactive Leaks from Fukushima into the Pacific

October 3rd 2013

Rad monitor Japan

A new leak of highly radioactive water is believed to be flowing into the Pacific Ocean from Japan's stricken nuclear plant after a storage tank overflowed. A Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) official said workers at Fukushima detected the toxic fluid dripping from the top of a tank when they were patrolling the site. Tepco estimates 430 litres of the water, which contains highly radioactive doses of strontium, has leaked outside a concrete barrier surrounding the tank. "(The contaminated water) went into the drain and we cannot deny the possibility of it having reached the ocean," Tepco official Masayuki Ono said.

It is the second time in as many months that radioactive water has leaked from storage tanks surrounding the plant, which was heavily damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. In August, toxic water was found to have leaked from another tank. Some of that contaminated water is also believed to have flowed into the Pacific Ocean. Massive amounts of water have been used to cool the reactors and fuel rods since the earthquake and tsunami caused some of Fukushima's reactors to melt down. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Congress’s Powerful Republican ‘Suicide Caucus’

October 2nd 2013

Ted Cruz

Their critics call them "anarchists" and accuse them of "political terrorism." Their supporters consider them principled and true to their word.

"They" are a group of around 80 hard-line Republican lawmakers in Congress, mostly the House of Representatives, whose conservative social and economic agenda has thrown sand in the gears of government and sparked open infighting within their party.

On September 30, this powerful bloc led House Republicans in refusing to pass a government funding bill that didn’t also weaken Obamacare, the 2010 law that requires all Americans to buy health insurance that most Republicans oppose. Senior Republican Senator John McCain called the shutdown "unnecessary," and so did President Barack Obama.

"At midnight last night, for the first time in 17 years, Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government," Obama said. "Let me be more specific: One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government -- all because they didn’t like one law."

William Galston, a governance expert at the Brookings Institution, describes what drives Congress’s "Tea Party Caucus," named for its members’ allegiance to the antigovernment grassroots Tea Party movement. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Shutdown Begins

October 1st 2013

Lincoln Headshot

The White House ordered federal agencies to shut down Monday night, with congressional negotiators unable to strike an agreement before the midnight deadline to keep the government open. Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell directed agency and departmental heads to execute their plans for an "orderly shutdown" of the federal government in a memo released by the administration.

 The notice came shortly after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) rejected a last-ditch Republican plan to appoint conferees to negotiate a short-term continuing resolution. The final gambit came after the Senate repeatedly rejected attempts by House Republicans to link the continued funding of government to rolling back ObamaCare.

Burwell said she was ordering the action because there was no "clear indication" that Congress would strike an agreement on a continuing resolution before the end of the day Tuesday. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorists Kill 3 Policemen Egypt's Sinai

September 30th 2013

Egyptian Mil. Police Alexandria

Gunmen shot dead three policemen in the northern Sinai Peninsula on Monday, Reuters' Aswat Masriya reported. Security sources said unknown gunmen stormed a police station in the North Sinai city of Al-Arish and opened fire "intensely" at security personnel on duty, killing three. The assailants fled by car.

Other media reports said the policemen were ambushed while on their way to the police station.

The Egyptian army is carrying out a weeks-long air and ground assault in the sparsely populated peninsula, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, to uproot Islamist militants who have intensified their activities against the police and army amid a security vacuum following the overthrow of long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Read more ..

Broken Government

House Republicans Say Dems Trying to Run Out the Clock

September 29th 2013

john boehner

House Republicans accused Democrats and President Obama of wanting to shut down the government for political gain Sunday afternoon. A handful of GOP lawmakers gathered outside an empty Capitol building to implore the Senate to come back immediately and consider the funding bill that the House passed late Saturday night to avoid a government shutdown.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) charged that his Democratic colleagues are playing politics with the government shutdown. Holding a football in his hand, Griffin equated the Senate’s decision not to return on Sunday to vote on the House-passed funding bill – which includes provisions to delay parts of Obamacare – with “running out the clock” at a football game. Read more ..

Broken Government

Senate Passes Funding Bill, Puts Pressure on House

September 28th 2013

Capitol Hill

In a high stakes budget battle, the U.S. Senate has passed a bill to keep funding the federal government, stripping out a provision pushed by House Republicans to cut off funds for President Obama's health care law.  The amdended bill now goes back to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, putting pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to take action before a midnight Monday deadline to avert a partial government shutdown.

As the Pentagon and other government agencies prepare for a possible shutdown Tuesday, the Senate has passed a funding bill that would keep the government running, without defunding the health care law.  The final vote approving the "clean" spending measure was 54 to 44. Read more ..

The Edge of Violence

Chicago Crime Gang Members Indicted on RICO Charges

September 27th 2013

Crime scene tape

As part of federal law enforcement's quest to help the crime-ridden city of Chicago take back the streets from prolific and deadly crime organizations, the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois on Thursday brought RICO charges against nine alleged members of a violent crime gang known on the streets of the Windy City as the Hobos.

The nine defendants allegedly directed or participated in committing murders, attempted murders, robberies, and narcotics offenses, according to U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro.

The five-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury accuses the nine defendants with five murders, solicitation of a sixth murder, four attempted murders, three robberies, and the operation of “drug spots” and “drug lines” on the city’s south side among a pattern of criminal activity between 2004 and 2009. Four of the defendants are charged with personally shooting to death five victims between 2006 and 2009, including one victim who was allegedly killed because he was cooperating with law enforcement, according to court documents. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Pakistani Quake Survivors Search Rubble For Food, Wait For Help

September 26th 2013

Turkey Earthquake

Miral, a local government employee in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province, was in his office when he felt his building riding the waves of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake as if it were a boat on a stormy sea.

Built from reinforced concrete for district administrators in Arawan, it is one of the stronger structures in the impoverished region and was able to withstand the September 24 quake.

Miral rushed outside after the temblor passed, looking anxiously across a flat stretch of desert toward his home in the nearby village of Balathi. Instead of the mud-brick houses that had been built there by his relatives and neighbors, he could see only rising clouds of dust and smoke. Running to his village, Miral found stunned survivors covered in dust and limping around in the rubble. Their village was one of many in the Awaran district that was almost completely leveled by the quake. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran State-Media Claims CNN ‘Fabricated’ Rouhani Holocaust Remarks

September 25th 2013


It was reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had delivered what his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never could — recognition that the Holocaust took place — but according to the semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency significant parts of the report are inaccurate.

On CNN.com’s home page Wednesday morning, the main headline asserted that Rouhani, in an interview with network reporter Christiane Amanpour, said that the Holocaust happened: “Iran’s New President: Yes, the Holocaust Happened.”

Fars however, categorically denied the claim that Rouhani addressed the Holocaust by name, saying the network “fabricated” the story, adding the word ‘Holocaust,’ among other conciliatory phrases, to its translation. Read more ..

the US and China

US Investigation Spotlights China's Princelings

September 25th 2013

The East is Red

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating JP Morgan’s Hong Kong office for hiring the children of high-level Chinese officials.  Observers say the hiring of these so-called “princelings” is to open business opportunities in mainland China.  But could the practice, which dates back almost two decades, also be considered bribery?

The SEC has investigated at least seven cases of bribery of Chinese officials, involving major American firms, since 2010.

This SEC investigation is reportedly centered on two children of top Chinese officials who were hired by JP Morgan’s Hong Kong office.  The New York Times reports that in 2007, the bank hired Zhang Xixi, the daughter of Zhang Shuguang , a senior official at the China Railway Group who is now on trial in Beijing for allegedly accepting millions in bribes. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

African Union in Solidarity with Besieged Kenya

September 24th 2013

Click to select Image

The African Union (AU) is working with its international partners to assist Kenya following the weekend terrorist attack on the East African nation, says Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairman of the African Union Commission.

“We stand with the people of Kenya during this trying moment. We have sent our condolences to the families and we hailed the government of Kenya in the manner in which they’ve handled the crisis,” said Mwencha. “We’ve indicated our resolve to continue to fight terrorism in whatever form it exists. We are also aware that this is a global menace and we need to act together as the international community to fight the scourge.”

Mwencha says the AU is ready to assist Kenya following the attack that has left scores wounded and many dead.

“For now, we wait to see [if] the Kenya authorities give us [an] assessment of the extent of the needs, and the African Union will then respond accordingly,” said Mwencha. “But, we are also encouraged to see that a number of member states have already given their support and willing to assist Kenya.”

Heads of state and government plan to meet in an extraordinary summit in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on October 13. The leaders are expected to discuss pulling out support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) due to the trial of Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial is also scheduled to begin in November. The ICC has charged both leaders in playing a key role in Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence. Read more ..

Broken Government

Shutdown Would Shutter EPA

September 23rd 2013

asbestos hazard

A government shutdown would effectively close the doors at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency’s administrator warned on Monday.

Speaking at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, EPA chief Gina McCarthy said that a potential government shutdown “will mean that EPA effectively shuts down.” “The vast majority of people at EPA will not be working,” she said. “I think it’s safe to say that I will be, but beyond that I don’t have the details.”

The warning comes as lawmakers in the House and Senate debate legislation that would keep the government running past the end of September, when current funding will run out. McCarthy said that a small group of EPA officials would stay on the job “to keep the lights on and to respond in the event of a significant emergency,” but that most of the agency’s 17,000 employees would be sent home. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Kenya President Vows Swift and Painful Revenge for Mall Attack

September 22nd 2013

Al Shabaab

CNN reports: Fifty-nine dead. At least 175 injured. About 30 hostages still inside, as well as perhaps a dozen gunmen. Those are the grim numbers, more than a day after Islamist attackers stormed an upscale Nairobi mall on Saturday, spraying bullets and holding shoppers captive. Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters Sunday afternoon the Kenyan people had showed resiliency as a nation and would triumph against the attackers. The tragedy was also personal; one of his nephews and his fiancee were among the 59 people killed.

"They shall not get away with their despicable, beastly acts. Like the cowardly perpetrators now cornered in the building, we will punish the masterminds swiftly and indeed very painfully," Kenyatta said. Kenyan government and Western diplomatic sources said Al-Shabaab militants were holding about 30 hostages inside the shopping center. Read more ..

Broken Government

Washington Week: Focus on Potential Federal Shutdown

September 22nd 2013


Once again, the U.S. government faces a potential shutdown driven by a politically-divided Congress unable to agree on federal funding. Later this week, the Senate is expected to pass a temporary spending measure incompatible with a House bill approved last week. Unless the two chambers pass identical bills, a limited government shutdown will begin October 1.

Friday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives extended federal spending authority, but defunded President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers: “The House has acted to keep the government open, to control spending, and to protect people from an unworkable law that is making it harder on them,” said McMorris Rodgers.

House Speaker John Boehner sounded triumphant. “The American people do not want the government shutdown, and they do not want Obamacare. The House has listened to the American people. Now it is time for the Senate to listen to them, as well,” said Boehner. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Obama UN Speech to Cover Syria, Chemical Weapons, Iran, Arab Transformations

September 21st 2013

Professor Obama at work

Syria's civil war and the use of chemical weapons, Iran's nuclear program, and transformations in the Arab world will be key topics in U.S. President Barack Obama's address next Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly.

Recent statements by Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, about a desire to increase cooperation and engagement have increased speculation about a possible meeting with Obama.

According to the White House, no such meeting is planned, although officials reiterate Obama's longstanding willingness to consider direct bilateral contacts if they hold potential for diplomatic solutions. Rouhani has said Iran is not seeking to build nuclear weapons and will under no circumstances "seek any weapons of mass destruction."

In a Washington Post opinion piece, he spoke of pursuing constructive dialogue with world powers. The White House attributes the Iranian outreach to unity by the international community, and the impact of sanctions, to pressure Iran to clarify details of its nuclear program. Read more ..

China on Edge

China Graft Crackdown Highlights Weibo's Power

September 20th 2013

Bo Xilai

On Sunday, a court in China is scheduled to issue the verdict in the high-profile trial of fallen political star Bo Xilai. The ruling comes amid what appears to be a widening crackdown on official graft by China's new Communist Party leaders. Based on the cases already under review, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on “tigers and flies” - high and low-ranking corrupt officials - appears to be just getting started.

In the short space of several weeks, China’s Communist Party has announced more than a dozen corruption investigations. One of the highest ranking targets is Jiang Jiemin, the former head of a central government body that oversees state owned enterprises. A review by VOA of some 40 corruption cases reported since last year shows that most were not the result of a government crackdown, but were instead first revealed online or through media reports. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Former British Foreign Secretary: Iran 'Ready For A Settlement' On Nuclear Issue

September 19th 2013


Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says new Iranian President Hassan Rohani is a "realist" who is "ready for a settlement" in Tehran's long-standing dispute with the West over its disputed nuclear program.

"There's been this election -- a surprise result for most people -- but a very big mandate for Dr. Rohani, who unquestionably was the most moderate of the candidates who were allowed to stand, and is a man, in my certain experience, one can do business with," Straw says.

Straw made the comments in an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda shortly after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei unexpectedly called for "heroic flexibility' in diplomacy -- an apparent reference to negotiations with the United States and other countries that have imposed sanctions on Tehran over the lack of transparency in its nuclear program. Read more ..

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